How Long Should a Cover Letter Be and What Should Be Included?

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If you’re applying for a new job, you want to make sure your cover letter length is appropriate and contains the right cover letter sections. Learn more about cover letter word count and organization as well as tips on crafting an effective cover letter.

[Featured image] A woman in a maroon shirt holding a cup of coffee looks over her cover letter and smiles.

A cover letter can be anything between half a page and a full-page long. Generally, you should aim for a cover letter word count of 250 to 400 words and about three to six paragraphs. 

A short, concise cover letter serves as a written introduction to a prospective employer and outlines why you’re the best fit for the job. The cover letter, which you submit alongside your resume, highlights your experience and helps explain how your skills and personality will complement the company.

In addition to asking how long a cover letter should be, you might also wonder what to write. To help, we’ll provide tips on the length, offer an outline to follow, and highlight writing suggestions that can impress and inspire the hiring managers to invite you for an interview. 

Cover letter length and outline 

A cover letter should take up at least half or a whole page, but not longer. Shorter is better. 

The length is also dependent on how you plan to send the cover letter, either in the body of an email or as a separate attachment. If you send your letter in an email, it should lean more towards a half-page. If it’s an attachment, you can go a bit longer, but not longer than a page. 

Although all options are acceptable, crafting your cover letter in an email gets instant visibility as opposed to an attachment that the recipient must open after reading your email. Check for delivery directions in the job description. If there aren’t any directions, an email will be the best option for you.  

What should be included in your cover letter? Here’s an outline of the cover letter sections and the information each paragraph should include: 

Contact information and greeting

At the top of your cover letter, include your contact information, which should include your:

 

  • Full name

  • City and state

  • Phone number 

  • Email address

After providing these details, add the date and contact information of the recipient, although you do not need this information if you're writing your cover letter in the body of an email. 

Next, write a greeting to the hiring manager. Ideally, you’ll know the name of the hiring manager and will address the letter to that person. However, if you don’t know their name, you can simply address it to the Hiring Manager.

Paragraph 1: Introduction

The first paragraph serves as an introduction. Start by introducing yourself and stating the position you’re interested in within the company. Add a fact or two about the company as you explain how you’ll complement the business.

When you research the company, examine the company's mission statement, values, and products. Review the company’s social profiles, search for news articles about the company, and run a search on the company’s owners and head executives. Use these pieces of information to write your introduction. 

Paragraph 2: Relevant experience

The next paragraph should offer your specific qualifications that align with the job description. You should mention your most recent job, its daily responsibilities, and how it helps the current job opening if it applies. 

Briefly highlight your skills. If you can, offer statistics that support your achievements by including a statement like, “The content marketing strategies I implemented led to a 300 percent increase in visitors, a 15 percent increase in inbound leads, and a 2 percent increase in conversions." 

If your previous job was in a different field or if you’re new to the job market, use this cover letter section to explain why you’re a good fit for the position. 

Paragraph 3: Company details or more qualifications

The third paragraph can take two different forms. You can talk about the company and why you want to join such a business, or you can point out additional qualifications that make you a standout candidate. 

Speak about the company. By researching the company’s website, social presence, news, and employee LinkedIn profiles, you can synthesize a few details about the company that you appreciate. With this data, determine why it’s the role and work environment for you and include your explanation in the letter itself.

If you’re light on company-specific details, mention more of your alluring qualifications, skills, or personality traits. However, be sure it’s fresh information and not repetitive of anything mentioned in the previous paragraph. 

Paragraph 4: Closing

In the last paragraph, you should express your appreciation to the reader and offer to discuss the position more in-depth during an interview. 

Every cover letter, no matter what position you apply for, includes a call to action at the end, such as asking for a meeting or an interview. 

Add your contact information including your cell phone number, address, and professional sites like your LinkedIn profile or portfolio, all below your signature. 

What if a job description says a cover letter isn’t required?

Experts say you should always send a cover letter as it gives you a chance to introduce yourself, showcase your skills, and stand out. You might come across a job description that indicates a cover letter isn’t required and be inclined to skip it. Send one anyway. A cover letter will allow you to highlight your relevant skills, experience, and interest in the company, presenting yourself as the ideal match for the job.  

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Tips for writing an effective cover letter

You want your cover letter to stand out from the other candidates who are also applying for the job. Your words should express your qualifications and show your potential for growth at the company. Follow these tips to elevate your cover letter: 

Check the job description for requirements.

Before writing your cover letter, check for requirements in the job description. 

In some cases, the job description may include instructions for your cover letter. It might have requirements such as: maintaining a specific length, naming the recipient, and the information they want to know about you. 

Know the name of the recipient.

Include the name of the hiring manager as opposed to a more general greeting like “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager.” Check the job description or company website for this information, or call the company to get the name of the hiring manager assigned to you. If you exhaust these options and can’t find the answer, use the general greeting.

Tailor the letter.

You’ll notice in the outline that company-specific and job posting-specific details should be included in the cover letter. As a result, every cover letter should be uniquely written for each of the jobs you're applying for and not repurposed.  

Formatting is important too.

While it’s easy to focus on word selection or questions like, “How long should a cover letter be?” formatting is a priority as well. Keep the margins standard, pick a legible and common font like Arial or Times New Roman, and font size of 11 or 12. 

Use bullet points for organization. In your second or third paragraph, when you mention your qualifications, list each of your qualities as a bullet point. 

Bullet points make your copy “skimmable,” so if a hiring manager is short on time, they might skip the paragraphs and simply read the bullets. 

Complement your resume, don’t repeat it.

Your resume offers a snapshot of your job experience, education, and skill set. Avoid repeating information from your resume in your cover letter. It should complement your resume instead of being a copy of it. Rather than duplicating the bullet points listed on your resume under your most recent job, for example, craft sentences that build on those bullets for your cover letter. 

Be concise.

A cover letter is a short document, so every word must count. Make your sentences concise and clear. When you’re finished writing, go back through your cover letter and remove any “fillers,” or phrases that don’t add value to your letter. 

Have a clear call to action.

Include a call to action at the end of your cover letter, such as a suggestion to schedule an interview to further discuss your qualifications. It’s one of the last things mentioned in your letter to encourage the hiring manager to take quick action. 

Getting started

Craft your next cover letter by taking Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters from the University of Maryland. To further enhance your job hunt, consider courses like Successful Interviewing or Career Planning: A Path to Employment.

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